Tag Archives: Sin

Sermon — 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, Sexuality and Sanctification

1 Jul

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.


This section is most obviously about sexuality and the call of God on the lives of His people for holiness. But in back of this direct teaching is the person of God. God, the Lord, the Holy Spirit are mentioned over and over in these verses. Real Christianity is always God-centered. There is no area of life which is not touched by the Person and Presence of God. There is no area in the life of a Christian that is not to be subject to the Lordship of Christ.

In our text today, we hear the call of God for our sanctification, or holiness. This holiness in our passage is particularly connected to our sexual morality. Several weeks ago we looked at the Song of Solomon and talked about the need for a joyful Christian sexual ethic. Today is kind of the flip side of that coin. We will not find lasting joy in sexuality if we walk in sexual immorality. Holiness was the picture the Old Testament temple provided. It was a reflection of God’s presence and purity. Holiness was required. Cleansings and washings were prescribed, sacrifices were made. Purity was paramount. God’s nature has not changed but the Temple was just a picture of the new covenant reality that through Jesus’ death on the cross God has purified His people from their sin, counting the perfect life and the atoning death of Jesus in the place of all who trust Him. The dwelling place of God is no longer to be thought of as a building. The church building today is not the house of God. We are the house of God. We are God’s temple, believer by believer joined together to be God’s dwelling place. And as purity was a top priority in the Old Covenant so should it be in the New Covenant. What we have by virtue of our position in Christ God intends to work into our lives by practice, so that we grow in holiness, becoming what we are, a people purified by God through the dying and rising of His perfect Son Jesus. It is a sad reality that many professing Christians understand grace as being distinct from holiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that one can be saved by grace without a care for holiness is an absolutely false view of grace that is damning many people to hell. Sometimes in our eagerness to avoid teaching salvation by works, at other times in our eagerness to console ourselves about family members who made a profession of faith but have lived fruitless lives, we have separated salvation and sanctification. But the Bible gives us no place at all to do this. Our memory verse from June makes this clear, Colossians 2:6,7, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” We were saved by faith and we now walk by faith. And if we don’t walk in faith, if we live as a lifestyle in darkness rather than light, we show that we are not saved. This is a big part of what 1 John is about that some of us men are studying on Saturday mornings.

So this is a sobering message today. We need to be careful about comforting ourselves about our family members if there has been no evident spiritual fruit in their lives. This is not a denial of salvation by grace or of our security as a believer, it is just an acknowledgement of what the Bible teaches everywhere, namely that those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Holiness is not an add-on to the Christian life for the really serious Christians, it is the reality of life for those who truly belong to God. Those whom God saves He will sanctify. Sanctification is where we begin in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verse 3 . . .

 The WHAT of Holiness: ABSTAIN from Sexual Immorality (4:3).

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

To be sanctified is the opposite of being impure. The word ‘sanctification’ means to be set apart, to be godly. Because I belong to God through Christ I should reflect the family likeness. I always perk up when I see a Bible passage say, “This is the will of God.” When something is made explicit as the will God, I really want to take notice. Here the will of God explicitly stated is that we as believers is our sanctification and that this holiness is shown as we abstain from sexual immorality. The complete avoidance of sexual thought and action centered outside the marriage covenant is in view here and in many other places in the New Testament. In every list of sinful vices I can think of in the New Testament the issue of sexual immorality is mentioned, and it usually leads off the list. Paul makes an argument in 1 Corinthians 6 that sexual immorality is especially damaging as it is a sin against one’s own body. Jesus’ teaching on marriage, that it is to be a lifelong bond of union except in highly unusual circumstances and Paul’s teaching that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, all raise the stakes as to the significance of sexual sin. So sexuality is not the only issue of holiness we need to think about but it is a major one. Thus we are not wrong as Christians to speak about this issue in the church and hold out a biblical view of sexuality to the world. We are not obsessed with these things, we are just trying to be faithful to the focus the Bible gives them.

Sexuality is a watershed issue in our day, a dividing line between being faithful to the truth of God and being unfaithful. This is one of those issues that in the days to come will divide families and churches. It is already happening and it will only pick up steam in the next few years. At the core, the issue is this: where does my view of life come from? If your view of the life is shaped by the Bible, then you will hold to the view that sexuality is only properly expressed in the context of one man, one woman marriage and that other expressions or thoughts outside that boundary are sinful and put one under the judgment of God. If on the other hand your view of life is shaped by culture, then in today’s world you will hold the view that sexuality is properly expressed through the exercise of personal freedom. In other words, anything goes as long as I like it. As the old cliché goes, “What I feel makes it real, what I like makes it right.” So there is no limit, no boundary, except that which is put on me by society legally or culturally. The focus of the worldly view is self-gratification, the focus of the Christian view is God-glorification. Where is your view of sexuality coming from? If your view is being shaped by culture you will live an immoral lifestyle, you will not avoid sexual immorality. But if your view is grounded in Scripture, seeing sex as a good gift to be enjoyed within its boundaries, you can pursue holiness and honor God with your life. It is a watershed issue.

And it was a watershed issue in Paul’s day for the Thessalonians. This church was living in a pagan culture that coupled sexual activity with the worship of the gods. Many of the Thessalonian believers had come out of this background of casual sexual self-gratification. So don’t think this call to sexual purity was easy for the Thessalonians but difficult for us. The Thessalonians didn’t have an internet, but they did have all kinds of public sexual degradation. Sexual purity has never been easy. But we make it much more difficult on ourselves when we try to walk in two worlds, when we try to have a Christian exterior while inside we are being shaped by culture and our own sinful desires.

This is not a matter of Christian liberty. We are to abstain from sexual immorality. There is no wiggle room. This is not a matter of debate. Lustful thinking or acting outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sin and puts us under God’s judgement. This is the will of God. Have we forgotten the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?” Could it be that if there is spiritual coldness in you: a lack of interest in church, a coldness to your prayer life, an emptiness to your Bible reading, weakness in your service for the Lord, a spirit of despondency, is it possible that these things are not the fault of other church members or your past experiences or your pastors or deacons? Is it possible that you are not seeing God because you are not pure in heart? Is it possible that your sexual sin is the thing that is most holding you back from a joyful walk with God? Does this sexual sin even call into question whether you have even ever really trusted in Christ? The stakes are high. As high as seeing God.

How do we abstain from sexual immorality? Look at verses 4 and 5 . . .

  The HOW of Holiness: Self-Control through the POWER of God (4:4,5).

 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 

The first principle of sexual purity given in this passage is the principle of self-control. There is some dispute about what is said here. Some of your translations may speak of controlling the body and others may speak of taking a wife. The wording could point in either direction. Whether one controls his sexual passions through godly discipline or through taking a wife or husband rather than burning with passion, we see concrete ways in which we seek to turn away from sexual immorality. For some, marriage may prove a great help in the battle against sexual immorality. It is not true that marriage ends the battle with sexual immorality because we still have sinful tendencies and we are still surrounded by a world of immorality, but marriage can help. At the same time, self-control cannot be ignored. We need to remember when we talk about self-control that for the Christian it is Spirit-empowered. Galatians 5 tells us that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. I am heartened that Paul teaches us that sinful sexual impulses can be controlled. We do not have to be like little boats tossed by the big waves of a sinful world. Paul doesn’t give us the specifics of how to win this battle consistently, but he does say God has given us the power to do so.  For me, it means God gives me the power to say “no” to watching something sinful on tv. God empowers me to not let my mind wander into lustful thoughts. But a part of God’s provision for me may just be the wisdom of not having cable movie channels or having filters on my internet or memorizing Scripture as a way to fight the unbelief that leads to lust. You probably have a different battle than me but you have the same Holy Spirit if you are trusting in Jesus. Trust Him to give you the power and wisdom to take the steps in your life to be holy and honorable rather than impure and degrading.

The end of verse 5 is a critical aspect of this passage. We are to live self-controlled lives, not like the Gentiles WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD. You see, this life of sexual obsession and sexual sin is a sure mark of a person that does not know God. Knowing God is essential to sexual purity. Sex is not about us it is about God. As Paul says in Titus 2, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us to say no to ungodliness and worldly desires and to be upright and self-controlled in this present evil age.”

Understand me. Sexual purity is only sustained by God. It is not rules, it is not simple self-discipline. As Paul says in Romans 6, we must yield our lives over to the Lord, Romans 6:13: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

And again, in Romans 6:19, Paul writes: “You used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Look at verse 6 . . .

 The WHY of Holiness — A WARNING to the Unrepentant (4:6).

that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

Some think Paul is changing the subject here, telling us that one should be honest in their business dealings. But the context doesn’t bear this out but seems to stay on this theme of sexual sin. Certainly adultery is the wronging of another, as you have relations with the spouse of another. But the actual person with whom you engage in immorality is also wronged through your sin. Even a person you think about in a sinful way is diminished in your eyes as you have made them an object of your desire rather than seeing them as a brother or sister in Christ.

The proof that the stakes are high is shown here in the threat of God’s judgment. Hebrews 13:4 says much the same thing, “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.”

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul calls the Lord an avenger. There is a sense in which sexual immorality and sexual betrayal of others is fundamentally abhorrent to God.

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul highlights the fact that he has had this talk with the Thessalonians before. It is true that the people in Thessalonica came out of a very immoral background, but this is also true of many of us. Some here lived in the passions of their flesh for years before they were saved. We may all need to revisit this sober warning of judgment from time to time. But this is not the whole story. Take a look at verses 7 and 8 . . .

God’s WORK for Our Purity and Our Response (4:7,8).

 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There is a warning of judgment here which it is wise for us to heed. But there is also a word here about God’s calling for us. As the passage started stating God’s will that we abstain from sexual immorality so the passage ends with God’s call to holiness. God’s call is holiness. Impurity short circuits not only the vitality of our relationship with God but also derails the working out of God’s purposes in our lives. How many ministers in recent years with great gifting have been brought down through sexual immorality? I mentioned a couple of weeks ago three prominent Southern Baptist leaders who had been involved in immorality. Since I gave that message, three more professors and state convention workers in the SBC have resigned because of immorality. It is a tragedy. We must not play around at the edges of this. It applies to all of us, every church member, every pastor and deacon. Notice here that Paul says God has called US to purity, he includes himself in his statement. He is accountable too. It is possible and even likely that these men who have fallen, if repentant, are true believers. But oh how tragic the consequences of their sin. We are not under condemnation through faith in Christ, but there is a principle of sowing and reaping that Pastor Terry talked about a couple of weeks ago.

God calls us. He draws us. He saves us. But He does all of this to bring us into holiness. And He did this to draw us close to Himself. Notice, if you reject these instructions you reject not just the instructions but God who gave His Holy Spirit to you. Sexual immorality is a form of blasphemy. It is a form of idol worship and no man can serve two masters.

This verse is so important for our world today. To reject these instructions is to reject God. If someone has an issue with the idea that sexuality is only rightly bounded within one man, one woman marriage, their argument is not with me, it is with God.

If you look at these instructions and feel it is impossible, let me give you three grounds of hope: 1) Jesus was totally pleasing to God and totally fulfilled in His life on earth and never had sexual relations. Sex is not like air and water, regardless of what our culture says. 2) God has given you His Holy Spirit to empower you for this life. 3) Our year verse, Luke 18:27 – what is impossible with man is possible with God.

I want to conclude this morning in a detailed way. What does it look like for us today to abstain from sexual immorality as an important part of our growth in grace, our sanctification?

First, we must reject as a matter of principle all forms of sexual immorality. We must say no to ungodliness. We must draw a line in the sand and define what is right and what is wrong from a biblical point of view.

Having carefully thought through these things, I can say without hesitation that the following principles should be characteristic of a Christian when it comes to sexuality. I haven’t seen every principle possible, but I believe I can biblically justify each of the things I am about to say. . .

When it comes to sexuality, a Christian is characterized as one who . . .

Rejects lust and affirms married love.

Rejects adultery and affirms faithfulness in marriage.

Rejects pornography and affirms a joyful sexual ethic in marriage.

Rejects living together without being married and affirms the biblical obedience of marriage.

Rejects sleeping together apart from marriage and any other sexual relations outside of marriage and affirms the beauty of sex itself within marriage.

Rejects fantasizing or setting our thoughts on people to whom we are not married and affirms the cultivation of a healthy marital relationship of mind, body and soul.

Rejects homosexuality in all of its forms and affirms heterosexual marriage as God’s pathway of obedience.

In the absence of marriage a faithful Christian affirms celibacy as God’s pathway of obedience.

Rejects the idea that our identity is tied up in our gender and affirms that our identity is found in Christ.

Rejects the notion that gender is self-constructed and affirms the truth that God’s design is two genders: male and female, made in His image.

Rejects the idea that life is about self-gratification and affirms that life is about God-glorification.

Rejects dating or marrying unbelievers and affirms the value of marriage between believers as God’s pattern of obedience for Christians.

Rejects divorce (with few exceptions) and affirms the permanence of marriage.

Rejects a spouse seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage when sexual fulfillment in marriage is not happening.

Rejects spouses withholding sexual activity in a prolonged way with one another except for an agreed upon time and affirms the joy of sexual activity as a blessing and a guard for our hearts.

Rejects flirting, immodest dress, crude jokes, cat-calls, all forms of sexual harassment, all sexual abuse and affirms the beauty and worth of married love.

Rejects all forms of media that stir sinful desires in the heart and affirms setting our minds on things above.

I truly believe that these things I have just mentioned are clear and biblical standards for our holiness when it comes to sexuality. These things are not matters of Christian liberty, they are truths that flow from God’s Word and His standards for purity. They are things that cannot be lived apart from the Holy Spirit’s power. There will never be complete obedience to these things this side of glory. But there should be substantial alignment with these things if we belong to Christ. These are the kinds of people we should be as followers of Jesus.

What if I am falling short in one or more of these areas? Let me suggest three things: 1) Repent. Turn away from these sin areas immediately and embrace the truth. Don’t live under God’s judgement. Draw near to God. Know that through faith in Christ you have forgiveness and His righteousness is counted on your behalf. 2) Take steps to get help/make changes. Talk to a friend. Confess to another brother or sister. Bring your life into the light. Sin thrives in darkness. Get counsel from a wise believer. Make physical changes to draw healthy boundaries. 3) Understand that God’s grace is greater than your guilt. If you have a marriage that split up, if you committed adultery, if you have yielded your heart to every manner of lustful thought in times past, know that you can be forgiven and restored and that through faith in Christ you are acceptable in God’s presence. Finally, may all of us exercise patience and kindness toward others in the spirit of Galatians 6:1. If this message is really taken seriously there will be much confession and change as a result. If someone comes to you wanting you to walk with them through change, be gentle with them. Treat them kindly, don’t be harsh with them.

If you need to repent today, you are safe here. You will be received and understood and prayed for and helped. Let’s get our lives into the light. Let me hear from you if you are defeated in this area. If you are a woman I will connect you with a trusted woman. Don’t fail to bring your struggles into the light.

Finally, understand that what we said earlier is true: this is a watershed issue. If you disagree with the biblical pattern for sexuality, I urge you once again to consider that your argument is not with me but with God and that He is all-wise. He really does know better than we what is right and good and true. There may be others here for whom this may be the start of a long battle. For still others this may be a critical step in a long-term victory. Understand that some hearing this message will insult me, if not publicly then privately. Understand that if you believe these things and live them you will be looked at, even by some in the church, as odd and intolerant. In the minds of some people you will be categorized with all the worst hate groups in our society. In your seeking to walk with Jesus you may be the most loving and kind person but if you say the wrong thing in the wrong way in our world, you will be hated and vilified. And I want to say to you, and to myself, take heart! Blessed are you! You’re just walking the path of the prophets and the path of the Savior.

Jesus is better than sexual immorality. Trust Him today to do His work of sanctification as you walk with Him.





Behold Your God — Week Two, Day One

5 Jun


If God is as great as we heard He is in week one, why doesn’t everyone naturally desire Him? People long for tasty food and interesting places to visit and books and movies that are compelling. We don’t have to put much effort into these things. Why is the greatest of all, God, so hard to know and love?

The answer is sin. Adam and Eve sinned. We inherited a sin nature from them. We have all sinned. Sin is rebellion against God’s rule over our lives. Because we have this built-in resistance to God’s lordship over our lives, so we do not naturally desire God, even though He is so good. So knowing God is hard. In fact, it is impossible apart from God’s grace at work in us.

In our pride we say we do not need God. But to walk in pride is to walk against the grain of the way the universe was designed. Everything owes its existence and its present life to God. So it makes sense to humble ourselves before the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer and live before Him in faith and love. But in our sinful pride we think we call the shots, we think we are the captain of our ship.

Just as pride keeps us from knowing God, so deceit hinders us as well. We can deceive ourselves, others, and we can even attempt to deceive God (though we will never be successful in deceiving God). In our sin we refuse to acknowledge who we really are and so long as we live this way the door to knowing God will always be blocked.

Finally, a simple love for evil can keep us from knowing God. Because we are born with a sin nature, we are accustomed to living by our evil desires. But until we bring our sin out into the light and deal with it, knowing God for us will only be a nice idea and not a reality.

The truth is, we can do a study like Behold Your God, we can spend time in prayer, we can read the Scriptures, but if we are in the grip of pride or deceit or evil, these things will do us no good. We have to honestly face who we really are. We have to honestly answer the question: do I really know God?

Unequaled Greatness

12 Oct

If you haven’t been in our Hebrews study on Sunday nights, this is what our study is all about. This clip from Art Azurdia is what its all about.

Bible Reading Blog — February 19, 2016

19 Feb

Today’s Readings — BREAK & Mark 9:42-50

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Much could be said about this passage. There are many questions which arise from a careful reading of Mark 9:42-50. What I saw as I read it this time was the relational nature of sin. In the first and last verses of this passage there are relational elements highlighted (causing little one to sin and being at peace with one another). In between there are several verses about dealing radically with sin. I have always thought of these verses as dealing with internals struggles, like lust or pride. But in context, it seems that these sin battles have a much more relational element. In other words, we should deal radically with sin not only because of the good it will do us, but also because of the good we will do others if we are not in the grip of sin. If you trace lack of harmony between people to sin as I do, you can see how if two people are dealing radically with sin they might more likely be able to live at peace with one another. Jesus spoke elsewhere about removing the plank from our own eyes. Of course this is not the whole story, but it is a start.

Bible Reading Blog — January 7, 2016

7 Jan

Today’s Readings — Genesis 18-24 & Mark 1:21-28

Warts and all. That’s the Bible. One of the things that drew me to faith is the Bible’s refreshing honesty. In the midst of the miracles and pronouncements and powerful teachings there are deep sins, horrible actions and tragic consequences. These terrible things are often presented without editorial commentary. The men of Sodom surrounding Lot’s house for sexual immorality with Lot’s guests? Check. Lot offering his daughters to the men of Sodom? Check. Lot’s daughters getting him drunk and sleeping with him to get offspring in a desolate land? Check. All through Genesis we see this tendency to not paper over the sins of all the characters in the book. To be sure, one of the points of this book is to remind us of the ongoing effects of sin. But still, when you read the Bible you will find people who experienced amazing things but you will also find frail people, sinful people, people not unlike ourselves and those we know.  I for one am glad to not have a sanitized version of the Bible. When I read it, it rings true, because it is true.

Sunday’s Sermon — Exodus 32:15-24, Two Responses to Sin

30 Oct

On one episode of The Andy Griffith Show, as Barney is leaving church he compliments the pastor on preaching a great sermon about sin. The only problem is the pastor wasn’t preaching about sin at all. He was preaching about God’s love. Barney hadn’t been listening. Well, this morning, if you will listen, you’re going to hear a sermon about sin. So I hope you’ll be able to leave this morning honestly able to say with Barney Fife that you heard a great sermon about sin.

A sermon on sin is at once offensive to some and so familiar to most. As much as our culture might want to deny that sin is real, it is easy enough to see, in ourselves and in others. Nobody quite ever does as well as we think they should and we all fall short of our own hopes too. And then when we see something of God, well then we know we’re really in a fix. His perfection makes our best efforts look so weak. So we know we need His mercy. This is kind of our day to day existence, if we’re honest: we are aware of our failings and of our need for God’s mercy. “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be.” And the Lord’s will for us is that over the course of our lives we might never outgrow our need for His mercy but might with it have a supply of the power of His Holy Spirit so that we would live a holy life. The grace of God teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, as Paul tells us in Titus 2. So the goal of God for every follower of Jesus is a steady, fruitful life. And I’m sure many of you can attest to that reality. You are different, more holy, more loving, than you were before you walked with Jesus. But for some of us, I would say most of us, there has been in our lives one or two areas of besetting sin. Some particular challenge that drives into your soul and seeks to root out the work of God. Some temptation to which you are prone to fall. And you pray and you plead and you fight and still it is there, seemingly always there to drive you crazy. Maybe it’s anger. You just can’t seem to control your anger, lashing out at people around you when things go wrong. Maybe it’s despondency. You have many blessings but you begin to look around at others and you feel your hope fading away. Maybe your besetting sin is fear. You are afraid of what others think of you, afraid of what might happen to you. This fear leads to worry and it shuts you down so that you never take a chance. For many, it is pride. You are confident in who you are and what you have and in your own abilities and you see no need for God. For others, it is lust. Maybe for women or men, maybe for alcohol, maybe for success or money. Something drives you that you want to pursue with all your heart but in the end it is an idol, just like that golden calf Aaron and the gang were worshiping at the base of the mountain.  

In these besetting sins, we may feel without hope. We may feel that we will never make any progress, that we will always fail. So many people give up. I am convinced many people give up on coming to church or being involved in church not because the church is full of scoundrels or hypocrites, but because there is some sin area they have never dealt with in their lives. Maybe a long-standing bitterness, maybe some shameful thing they have done that they don’t want anyone to know about, maybe some area of sin they think others would not understand. Whatever the case, the church should be the place we can deal with sin in a constructive way, a way that leads to our lives being put back together. Instead, the church is often the place of whispers and fake smiles and false handshakes. This should not be, and today’s passage gives us a way forward in dealing with sin which will be redemptive and good. And the reason this is important is because sin affects our relationship with God and brings terrible consequences in our lives and the lives of others. You can’t lose your salvation if you really have it. I believe with all my heart that is the testimony of Scripture. But boy, can you make your life miserable by wallowing in sin and never really dealing with it. So this morning, I want us to deal with sin so that we can see and rejoice in God again. God is the goal. 

We’re going to come at this from two angles, just as the passage lays it out. On the one hand, we see a positive example of dealing with sin from Moses. And on the other hand we see a negative example of dealing with sin from Aaron. So we’re just going to make some observations about these two and then draw out some applications for our own lives at the end.  

Let’s look first then at . . .

Moses: The GODLY Response to Sin       (32:15-21). 

          A Godly Response to Sin Includes . . .  

Reverence for God’s WORD (32:15-16).

15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

Moses has already been told by God that the Israelites have rebelled at the base of the mountain. God told Moses to go down to them. Moses begged God for mercy toward the Israelites but now he will have to go down and deal with their sin. What is so important to note is how Moses does not go down in his own authority. He takes the two tablets of the Ten Commandments down the mountain with him. In other words, as Moses goes down to deal with the Israelites’ sin, the Word of God is front and center. And the way this is written, it seems that Moses was trying to tell us two things about the Word of God. First, by saying it was written on front and back and that the tablets were filled, it seems that Moses is pointing to the sufficiency of Scripture. The Word of God gives us everything we need for life and godliness. Second, Moses really emphasizes that these tablets are the Word of God. He calls them the work of God and the writing of God and emphasizes how God Himself had carved out the letters.

When we deal with sin, the Word of God must be central. If we do not keep God’s standards at the front of our minds, we will easily rationalize anything and everything under the sun. “Well, I’m not hurting anybody.” “Everybody else is doing it.” “Times have changed.” I remember when I first came here, EB Elmore was here, and I asked him for advice about being a pastor because I had never been one before. And I’ll never forget what he told me. He said, “Just stick with preaching the Bible and you’ll be fine.” We need to preach and live the Bible. If you really giving yourself to knowing the Bible and reading the Bible and meditating over the Bible you may become a puffed-up egghead full of knowledge. That is a risk. But you will more likely become a God-shaped lover of truth whose life will be directed by the Holy Spirit through the Word. But if you don’t put the Word front and center, you will definitely become a cultural Christian swayed by every blowing wind of culture and easily and quickly falling into sin which will hinder your walk with God and the quality of your life. Are you in the grip of some sin? Are you distant from God? Ask yourself two questions? Do I believe the Bible is the Word of God? Am I giving myself to regularly feeding my soul on the Bible? If the answer to one or both of those questions is “no” you have right there the reason why sin is big and God is small in your life.

Second, we see that a right response to sin includes . . .

ANGER Over Sin                  (32:17-19).

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.

Moses was hot about the sin of the people. He knew already that they had rebelled, but when he saw it with his own eyes, he was incensed. Their rebellion against this God who had been so good to them, delivering them from Egypt feeding them in the wilderness and now making them His own people through the law and the tabernacle, it was all more than Moses could stand. The offense against God of these people worshiping a golden calf and engaging in sexual immorality at the base of the mountain produced in Moses a righteous anger that was seen in his breaking of the tablets at the foot of the mountain.

I believe Moses’ anger was righteous for two reasons. First, there is no record here that God was displeased with what Moses did. Later on, Moses will get angry at the Israelites again in the wilderness and he will strike a rock with his staff and water will come out. And in that passage the Bible is very clear that God was displeased with Moses’ anger and will not permit him into the Promised Land because of it. But here there is none of that sense of God’s displeasure with Moses. The second reason I believe Moses’ anger against Israel was righteous is that the Hebrew phrase “Moses’ anger burned hot” is exactly the same phrase used to describe how God felt about Israel’s sin in verse 10. This shows me that Moses’ anger is a godly anger. I don’t believe that Moses’ throwing down the tablets was an impulsive thing. I believe it was a controlled and symbolic thing. By throwing down the tablets, Moses was saying to Israel, you have broken covenant with God by worshiping idols.

When was the last time you were really angry over your sin? Over the sin of another person? Instead what do we get angry about? “My car won’t start! They put mustard on my hamburger in the drive through when I told them not to! The football game is on instead of my favorite show! They ignored me! I didn’t get my Sunday School quarterly in time! They changed the schedule at church! The pastor’s not wearing a tie!” We get tied up in knots over the most inconsequential things and ignore the life changing sin that’s right in our face. Or if we don’t ignore it, we’ve just grown accustomed to it. We’ve just resigned ourselves to always being angry or bitter or lustful. Maybe we’ve even softened it a little bit in our thinking. We’ve made our sin part of who we are. “Well, I’m just an intense personality.” “Well, I was born this way.” “Well, you know, I my grandpa gave me a drink when I was twelve so I just can’t help it.” We need to recapture a hatred for sin. We will never really deal with sin rightly until we’re mad about it. There is a good kind of anger. Anger over things that anger the heart of God can be constructive and helpful. Do you hate your sin? Until you do you won’t really deal with it.

Next, we see in Moses’ right response to sin a . . .

WARFARE Against Sin                  (32:20).

20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.

Moses burned the calf and put it in the water to make the people drink it for two reasons. First, he wanted Israel to personally taste the bitterness of what they had done. He wanted them to see the ugliness of their sin. Second, Moses wanted to obliterate the idol. He burned it up. He did away with it entirely. He made war on the idol. John Owen, the great Puritan writer, said long ago, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” And of course, he was just paraphrasing Romans 8:13, “For if you life according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Kill it. Put it to death. Deal with it strongly. So many of us are in the grip of some sin because we have never really made war on it. We are not willing to get radical in our fight against sin. We don’t see how our sin is hindering our life with God and the quality and power of our daily life. We are ashamed to admit that we have had a long-standing problem that needs to be addressed. So we stay silent and ashamed. Let me urge you today to make war. So many of you here were in the military. Have you given yourself to knowing God and hating sin with the same degree of discipline you gave yourself to the Army or the Navy or the Air Force or the Marines? Your aim ought to be to root out every enemy of your soul. When you see an area of sin, declare war. How do you fight the war? Two ways. First, you fight by the Spirit through the Word. You renew your mind and fill it with thoughts of God and your soul is shaped so that your thoughts are directed by the will of God rather than your own feelings or what is popular. Second, you fight the war by joining with others. Just as you don’t go onto the physical battlefield alone, so it is spiritually. If you are struggling with pornography today and you won’t open your life up to anybody, you are always going to struggle with pornography. If you don’t find somebody who can fight the battle with you, you will never defeat lust in your life. Church ought to be one big fight club. A group here who struggles with anger joins together to make war. A group over here who struggles with alcoholism joins together to make war. A group over here whose marriages are falling apart or have already fallen apart joins together not to complain about what dogs their spouses are but to make war, to say, this will not be my destiny. We will walk out of this more determined to know Jesus, more satisfied in Him, more committed to rooting out sin in our lives. Christians too often fight about all the wrong things. We fight about theology. We fight about how to grow the church. We fight about what kind of music to sing. We ought to be fighting sin. Because if you’ve got a group of people who are living with a pure heart and a sincere faith before God, you can get up here with a kazoo band on Sunday morning and play Amazing Grace and they will love it. Because the only time my personal preferences take center stage is when I am in the center rather than God. Be like Moses. Make war on your sin.

Finally, there is here from Moses . . .

A Call to REPENTANCE               (32:21).

21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”

Moses comes to Aaron and basically says, “What were you thinking?” Moses is strong with Aaron, but that is not a bad thing, it is a good thing. The problem in our day is that we would get so offended with Moses we wouldn’t listen to a thing he had to say. In reality, Moses is not being mean to Aaron, he is giving Aaron an opportunity to repent. And Moses would have surely interceded for Aaron and God would have forgiven Aaron. So Moses’ words to Aaron were not mean, they were loving. Sometimes strong words are loving. Sometimes nice words are damning. We need to call ourselves and others to repentance. Too often I have sat on the sidelines and remained silent in the face of sin. That is wrong. Sin needs to be called out. But what is the goal? Angry denunciation of sin so I can feel better about myself? No. Repentance. All we want is for ourselves and others to be reconciled to God so that God can be honored and so that their lives can be enriched. Anybody who responds to sin in a godly way will make repentance a big part of the story. We are not here to punish people. Our ministry, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5, is reconciliation.

So this is how a godly person responds to sin: reverence for the Word of God gives her understanding of the Word by which she then develops an anger over sin and from that hatred of sin makes war against that sin with the goal of being reconciled to God. Our relationship with God is not broken by our sin. Our fellowship with God and fruitfulness for God are very much broken by sin. If we will respond like Moses, holiness will flow into our lives and we will find ourselves changed. Sadly, all too often, we don’t respond like Moses. We respond like Aaron. I am not going to take as long on this part because I don’t believe Aaron deserves much of our time but I do want to point out a few things about his response because we may be able to better understand our own hearts better if we see what he did.

So let’s look briefly at . . .

Aaron: The UNGODLY Response to Sin          (32:22-24).

          An Ungodly Response to Sin Includes . . .

 BLAMING the Messenger               (32:22a).

22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot.

Aaron responded to Moses’ question by being offended. “Don’t be angry with me Moses. What are you so uptight about? Relax, Moses.” It is a very typical response to blame the messenger when we are confronted over a sin. Nobody likes to be confronted so when it happens we tend to get defensive and we tend to blame the messenger. This happens all the time in marriage. The wife points out some way the husband is falling short and the husband is like, “Well, I don’t like your tone.” Or in the church, if we confront someone over their sin, they are like, “How can you judge me?” The problem is no longer the sin but the judgmentalism of the other person. This is a typical wrong response to sin we have to be aware of in ourselves and in others.

Second, we see in Aaron’s ungodly response . . .

Blaming Others Participating in Sin WITH You                 (32:22b).

You know the people, that they are set on evil.

This is a real mark of an ungodly response to sin: blaming others. If I didn’t hang out with those people I wouldn’t have done it. They are such a bad influence on me. I’m sorry, did they light the joint for you and put it in your mouth? Did they give you the dirty joke on a cue card for you to read? We can’t blame others who are involved in sin for our own sin.

Third, we see that an ungodly response to sin involves . . .

Making EXCUSES      (32:23).

23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’

I couldn’t help it Moses because the people were pressuring me. And besides, you weren’t here. You were up on the mountain so you were making the people nervous. So do you see what Aaron has done? He has made excuse after excuse for his sin. If only these things hadn’t happened, everything would have been alright. It reminds me of brothers and sisters. “I wouldn’t have hit him if he hadn’t made a face at me.” “I’d obey you if you wouldn’t be mean to me.” It reminds me of the person in school who says, “I’d do better in school if the teacher weren’t so unfair.” It’s not my laziness or my anger or my obeying that’s the problem. It’s something outside of me. So on come the excuses. When it comes to your sin, if you are going to deal with it in a godly way, you must tell yourself, “No more excuses.” You must be done with using what has happened to you or what you naturally desire or any other thing as an excuse to give yourself a free pass to disobedience.

Finally, we see that an ungodly response to sin involves . . .

Minimizing Your ROLE in the Sin (32:24).

24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

Now you remember in verses 1-6, how Aaron told the Israelites to bring him their gold and he formed the calf and carefully made the idol and then declared a day of worship to the Lord. But here, in his explanation to Moses, he acts as if it was just kind of “poof!” Here’s a calf. Aaron was very detailed earlier in talking about what the people said and what they were doing. But when it comes to his own role, he is very vague and minimal.

Aren’t we so often able to describe the sins of others so much easier than our own? We know what the other guy did and why, even though we can’t see into his heart, while our own actions are much less clear, much more clouded by mixed motives and after all we didn’t mean to offend God or hurt others. It just kind of happened. Sin just never kind of happens. We choose it because we prefer it to God. When we do this, we need to not minimize our actions or try to put them in the best possible light. We need to own our failures. Don’t try to follow the example of the politicians here. Don’t spin. Don’t say, “Missteps were made.” We need to own our sin fully if we are going to deal with it in a godly way. And remember, our goal is repentance and restoration. When we confess or sins, God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse. But when we try to minimize our sin, we are pretending that we have not sinned and 1 John says this is akin to the truth not even being in us. It is as close as a believer ever comes to being an unbeliever when he minimizes his sin.

So there we have it. A godly response to sin and an ungodly response to sin. One marked by reverence for God’s Word and hatred of sin and warfare on sin and a desire for repentance. The other marked by anger at the person who pointed out sin and blaming fellow participants in sin and making excuses about sin and minimizing one’s role in sin. What a vastly different picture between Moses and Aaron. The godly response brings the short-term pain of honestly dealing with sin but the long-term blessing of peace and reconciliation and restoration. The ungodly response brings a short-term freedom from responsibility and a false sense of security but it ends with long-term uncertainty, broken relationships, unspoken hurts and lack of intimacy with God and people. So I have a really simple question for you this morning . . .Are you a Moses, or an Aaron? Are you living for God’s glory or for self-preservation? Are you open or in hiding? Honest or deceitful?

Sunday’s Sermon — Exodus 32:1-6, “The Golden Calf or the Grace of Christ?”

13 Oct

Turn with me to Exodus 32, we’ll be looking at verses 1-6. Now remember last time we were in Exodus three weeks ago we looked at the instructions God gave Moses for the Tabernacle. Moses was having this glorious 40 day mountaintop experience with God. But down at the base of the mountain, something very different was going on . . .

32 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

This is one of the saddest events in the Bible. But Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 that this event and several others like it in Israel’s history, were written down for our instruction, so that we may not desire evil as the Israelites did. So we are going to be looking this morning at the ways in which Israel fell into sin in this passage. And hopefully understanding these ways will serve as a warning for us and cause us to lean more fully on our only hope for deliverance from sin.

 We Fall into Idolatry When We Become IMPATIENT with God’s Plan (32:1).

The first step in Israel’s downward spiral to sin was IMPATIENCE. They saw Moses was delayed on the mountain. They had received the commandments and they were ready to get on their journey to the Promised Land. They were tired of being at the base of Mt. Sinai. They didn’t know what Moses was doing up on the mountain. I tell you, I have seen this so many times, in my life and in the lives of others. Impatience with God’s timing is at the heart of so many of our struggles with sin. We are a people who want it now. Everything in our culture pushes us toward instant gratification, from fast food to text messages to 24 hour breaking news. Everything is about instant access. Get what you want when you want it. And God simply does not work that way. And the reason He doesn’t work that way is that He is wise. He knows that working out His plan over the course of our lives and working it in deep is better than a quick fix that would do nothing to change our souls. Our hearts are shaped in a good direction through waiting and delayed gratification and yes, even disappointment. But we are rarely willing to put up with such things. So, like the Israelites, we grow impatient with God’s ways and devise our own ways.

In the case of Israel, their impatience was not only impatience with God, but also with their leaders. When the text says “they gathered themselves together to Aaron” it is in the Hebrew text indicating a hostility in their action. They want something done and they want it done now. It’s like a tense school board meeting with outraged parents. They’re gathered together to make demands. You can see it in their words to Aaron, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us.” We want to get to the Promised Land and we know we need the protection of gods. So make us gods to lead us to the Promised Land. We want it and we want it now because after all, this Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him. They were impatient with Moses too, calling him “this Moses,” a derisive phrase. And they know very well what has happened to him. He is on the mountain with God. The problem isn’t that Moses is lost, the problem is that the people of Israel are impatient, unwilling to wait for God’s plan to unfold. God promised to take them to the Promised Land, but when He didn’t do it quickly enough for them, they quickly turned to themselves. I believe in this passage we can also see that the Israelites were a little too dependent on their leaders. Their  impatience stemmed not only from God’s inactivity but also from Moses’ absence. When Moses was delayed, they got jumpy. And notice they say that Moses was the one who led them out of Egypt. It is true that Moses was their leader, but in Exodus it is almost always said that it was God who led Israel out of Egypt. In a typical way when impatience comes in, the Israelites both loved and loathed their leader. They longed for Moses but were ticked off at him for his slowness in coming down from the mountain. They view him as the one who brought them out of Egypt but also speak of him disrespectfully. And all along, Moses is on the mountain getting instructions for the right worship of God. This is what makes this event one of the saddest in the Bible. At the same time the golden calf is being fashioned for false worship of God, God is unfolding His good plan for Israel to Moses on the mountain. God is going to give Israel a place of worship. He is going to go before them. He is going to lead them to their land. But rather than waiting on God and his appointed leader, they take matters into their own hands.

And that is how a pattern of sin normally starts in our lives. We become impatient with God’s plan and insist on our own. We have desires and God has a plan wherein those desires can be met but we are unwilling to wait. The most obvious example is sexual activity outside of marriage. God gives us the boundary of marriage for our good but we in our impatience violate that boundary. But there are other examples too. Impatience with God’s plan is often the gateway to terrible sin.

We Fall into Idolatry when We Do What is POPULAR Rather Than What is Right (32:2-3).

          Moses did not fail the Israelites by being with God up on the mountain, but Aaron definitely failed the Israelites by failing to resist their pleas to make them gods. Aaron doesn’t raise a single word of opposition to them and actually gives them instructions and carries out the whole terrible deed of making an idol. As their leader, Aaron should have stood for what was right but probably out of fear and maybe out of a desire to take leadership from Moses, Aaron went right along with the Israelites in fashioning the golden calf. Aaron, when faced by this crowd could have drawn aside to pray, he could have called on Israel’s elders for advice, he could have led the people in true teaching from what he had already received from God. But he did none of these things. He just followed the crowd. Aaron did what was popular rather than what was right. He cared more about the opinion of people than the glory of God.

And aren’t we often just like him? We fail to stand up for biblical truth because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. We don’t want to lose our job so we go along with dishonest practices at work. We fail to stop our friend on the other end of the phone when they start to slip into gossip. We compromise the gospel so people won’t be offended. We shy away from biblical truths that are not popular in our culture. And when we go for the popular way rather than the biblical way, we are sitting ducks for sin.

We Fall into Idolatry when We INVENT Our Own Image of God        (32:4-6).

The people of Israel turned away from God through impatience and turned to themselves, crafting their own image of God to worship. They ended up with a mix of God’s principles for worship (bringing offerings, having a feast day to the Lord) and Egyptian worship. They made their image of God to look like the false gods of the Egyptians, who often worshiped cattle. As has often been said, “The Lord took Israel out of Egypt but a lot of Egypt was still in Israel.” Israel had been influenced by hundreds of years of living in Egyptian culture and now a few months out of Egypt serving a mysterious God in a time of uncertainty, the Israelites turn back to what they know, to what is comfortable, and they construct the golden calf. They don’t worship the true God but they worship a god of their own inventing, even as they mix it with worshiping the true God. In the end, the Israelites sit down to eat and rise up to play. That word “play” in Hebrew is most likely a nice way of saying that they got up after the feast to engage in sexual immorality. The Israelites were not taking their cue from what God had told them to do but were doing whatever was right in their own eyes. They ignored God’s Word, which they had heard and had agreed to follow. They broke His commandments. Why did they do this? Why did they construct this golden calf and worship it? Stephen tells us in Acts 7 in his sermon there. He says, “Moses was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside and in their hearts they turned to Egypt.” So the people of Israel were so quick to turn to idolatry because there was still much idolatry in their hearts. Their hearts did not belong wholly to the Lord.

And so Aaron fashions the calf out of gold. The people worship according to their own desires rather than the instructions of God. RC Sproul shares several ways in which the Israelites doing their own thing They seek to create what God was providing Moses on the mountain. They take the initiative to worship rather than waiting on God to direct their worship. Offerings are demanded rather than offered willingly. The elaborate preparations of the tabernacle are replaced by a cheap and empty ceremony. The lengthy building of the tabernacle is replaced by a rushed forming of a golden calf. Instead of the ark covered inside the Holy of Holies as the place where God’s glory would rest the Israelites put out a false god image in open air and bring the curse of God rather than His blessing. The invisible God is falsely made into a visible image and the personal God becomes an impersonal object that cannot speak, see or act. The people hoped to get the blessing of God by making the golden calf but they forfeit the blessing of God by their very act.

So many people today believe in designer religion. We see it with people who say they are spiritual but not religious. We see it with people who take this and that from one religion or the other. We see it even among professing Christians who say things like, “My God would never say homosexual behavior is a sin.” Any time we take that kind of approach to God we are just making a little golden calf in our hearts. “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Many years ago Rich Mullins wrote a song called Creed. The chorus goes, “I believe what I believe, it’s what makes me what I am. I did not make it, no it is making me, it is the very truth of God not the invention of any man.” Our heart should always be geared toward obeying the Word of God, not inventing our own ideas of God. “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word. What more can He say than to you He has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus hath fled?”

Finally, we see this morning that . . .

  1. We Fall into Idolatry When We Fail to REMEMBER God’s Past Faithfulness.

I don’t get this idea directly from the text but from Psalm 106, which refers to the golden calf incident. This psalm says, “they made a calf, and worshiped an idol cast from metal. They exchanged their Glory for an image of a bull, which eats grass. They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.” “They forgot the God who saved them.” What a tragedy. When they forgot God, they ran to idolatry. We are made to worship and we will all worship something, whether money or sex or success or power of the true and living God. Israel failed here not only because of their impatience and their willingness to choose their own way but also because they forgot all God had done for them. They forgot His good gifts. They forgot His past deliverance and the way He had provided for them day by day. He forgot how even as they made the calf God was on the mountain sharing His heart with Moses, giving His good plan for the people of Israel.

When we sin we forget God and all His gifts. We push Him to the edges of our hearts. We put Him out of our mind. Even though He has given us life. Even though He has given us eternal life through His Son Jesus. Even though He has adopted us into His family. Even though He has called us His beloved. Even though He has given us His Spirit and is changing us to be like Jesus. Even though He has promised us an eternity of joy in His presence. When we sin we forget all these things and more.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. And then there is the way of Jesus, who tasted death for us so that we could have life, eternal and abundant. Jesus went to the cross and died in our place and rose from the dead to deliver us from our idolatries. To give us a patient spirit that trusts in our sovereign God and His plan. To give us an iron will that is not swayed by public opinion but is willing to stand for what is right. To give us a humble heart which seeks to align our lives to God’s Word rather than our culture or our conceptions of how we should live. To give us a mind which is quick to bless the Lord and forget not all His benefits and to let that remembrance serve us by drawing us to the living God and away from fashioning a golden calf to self.

Is your heart a place of self-worship or the worship of God’s gifts, or are you leaning wholeheartedly on the grace of Jesus for your standing with God and for all your strength for living? “Jesus, I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou art, I am finding out the greatness of your loving heart.” May we today make a decisive break with the golden calf and walk in the grace of Christ.

Sunday Evening Bible Study: Romans 5:16-21

5 Nov

16  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.
So Paul has said first that the free gift is not like the trespass. Now he says the free gift is not like the result of one man’s sin. This is a restatement of verse 15 from a different angle, the angle of our legal standing before God.

In Adam, there is condemnation. In Christ, there is justification. Adam sinned in the midst of a perfect garden with everything he needed for life and godliness. Jesus saved in the midst of a corrupted creation, bruised and battered on the cross, dying to forgive the sins of millions, literally trillions of sins poured out on Him in His death, all of which He willingly suffered to bear out of love for the Father and His people.

Paul has been using this language of the courtroom already in Romans, especially in chapter 3. But it will really reach its apex in Romans 8. We need to remember the language of the court when we hear Romans 8:1 —

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And we hear it again in verses 31-34 . . .
31  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Now we come to the most important verse in this text for avoiding a potential false teaching that will come in verses 18 and 19 . . .
17  For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Now this verse shows the contrast not in a legal sense but in a life sense. Adam’s trespass brought death, but those who trust in the abundant free grace of Christ reign in life. The gift they receive is righteousness. This is better than just a forgiveness of sins it is a gift of righteousness, right standing, right relationship, right actions. The benefits of Christ’s death then, bring a life that is far greater than the death brought by Adam’s sin. So its not that Adam scribbled over the picture and Jesus covered over the scribbles with primer. No, Jesus wiped away the scribbles and replaced them with a masterpiece better than what was there before.

Now I think the significance of this is hard to underestimate. For what we see in this world are tremendously awful effects of sin. Death, disease, hurt, pain, brokenness. But what this passage and others in the NT are saying is that the effects of the work of Christ will be far greater than the effects of sin. This is what Paul is getting at in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

But there is an important distinction here. Whereas Adam’s sin has affected all mankind, the benefits of Christ’s death come only to those who trust in Him, those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness. As Paul says in Romans 3, we are justified as a gift by faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. And as he will pick up in Romans 10, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how will they call unless the hear and how will they hear unless they are preached to and how will they preach unless they are sent? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. So this issue of hearing and believing is critical.

So while the depth and richness of Christ’s work is far greater than Adam’s the true benefits of that work do not come to all people but only those who believe. But if you don’t read verse 17 and just skip on to verses 18 and 19, you might not see it that way . . .

18  Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
This is not saying that everyone will be saved (universalism). We know this because of what Paul has just said in verse 17 as well as what he says elsewhere. The key comparison is one trespass led to condemnation and one act of righteousness leads to justification.  But this use of all people. What are we to make of it?

Douglas Moo says, “Paul’s point is not so much that the groups affected by Christ and Adam, respectively, are coextensive, but that Christ affects those who are his just as certainly as Adam does those who are his. When we ask who belongs to, or is in, Adam and Christ, respectively, Paul makes his answer clear: every person, without exception, in “in Adam”; but only those who “receive the gift” are in Christ.  That all does not always mean every single human being is clear from many passages, it often being clearly limited in context, so this suggestion has no linguistic barrier.”

Context indicates that Paul was comparing the fate of those who are in Adam (the position of all by virtue of their birth into the human race) and the blessings of those who are in Christ (the position of all who have responded in faith).

Verse 19 gives another statement of this great truth . . .
19  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Verse 19 is not just a repetition, but is an expansion on the idea of verse 18. Adam’s sin corrupted the world. Christ’s work brings about a new age, a new people and in the end, a new heaven and new earth. The contrast here is disobedience and obedience. “The many”  here is pointing to all who are born into the family of each man. The many in Adam are all who are born into the human family and the many in Christ are all who have been born into the family of God by faith in Christ. As we were made sinners through the inheritance of sin from Adam, so we are made righteous by the imputed righteousness of Christ. Notice the future tense in this verse. There is a sense in which we await the completion of our salvation but there is a present aspect and a future aspect in which we are growing in holiness even as we await our final glorification.

Now I will confess that there is something that has always disturbed me about this passage. My way of thinking about this has been like this: If Adam’s sin affected all and Christ’s obedience affected only those who believe in Him, how can it be said that Christ’s obedience is a greater thing than Adam’s disobedience? Adam’s sin damned all but Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t save all, but only those who believe. How would you answer that problem?

My conclusion is that I have defined what is better by what benefits people rather than by what glorifies God and that I have quantified the benefit by its sheer numbers when I have not yet seen the full outworking of God’s plan.

The work of Christ is deeper, fully, better than the work of Adam. In this way it is superior. The work of Christ is a real work of grace, whereas Adam’s work is a work of death. But more than this, in some way Jesus’ work will be fuller and greater than Adam because this passage says it will be. I don’t know exactly how that looks. I know it is not universalism but it is a new creation. I know it is not every human being, but I know it is a multitude without number. I believe the greatness of Christ and the glory of God is vindicated even in the judgment of those who reject Him, so that in the end God’s justice and mercy are both upheld and the glory of God is central.

Now this makes me long for glory, because if what we are seeing in this passage is true, the new heaven and new earth are far greater than we imagine.

20  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
The purpose of the Law was never to save humanity but to show us our need for grace. The law is good, but we mess it up by using it to try to make our way with God or by our inability to keep it.

The law comes in  to turn those who use it into “Adams,” people who knowingly violate the law and are therefore more aware of their accountability to God.

Here again is the super abounding power of Christ in grace. Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.

So sin is horrible, but grace is better. I think there is a temptation among biblically committed Christians living in a world where sin is no big deal to emphasize sin to the neglect of grace. Yes the world is bad. Our hearts are wicked. But God’s grace is greater. His power is greater than sin’s power. In the end He will win. He has already won the decisive victory through the cross and the empty tomb.

21  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grace abounded so that grace might reign to eternal life. The earlier picture of the courtroom has been replaced in the end with the language of kingship. Sin reigned by the power of transgression and brings death. Grace reigns through the power of righteousness through the finished work of Jesus Christ and brings life when we repent and believe.

Warren Wiersbe says,
Adam came from the earth; Jesus is the Lord from heaven.
Adam was tested in a garden, surrounded by beauty and love; Jesus was tempted in a wilderness, dying on a cruel cross surrounded by hatred and ugliness.
Adam was a thief, and was cast out of Paradise; Jesus turned to a thief and said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Old Testament is the book of the generations of Adam and ends with a curse (Mal. 4:6); the New Testament is the book of the generations of Jesus Christ and ends with “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3)

Sunday Evening Bible Study, Romans 5:12-21, Dead in Adam, Alive in Christ — Part One

30 Oct

This week we are confronted by a hard text. Romans 5:12-21 is a difficult paragraph, filled with complex reasoning. I struggled through making sense of some of the things here and answering the questions that I thought needed to be answered about this paragraph. As I was thinking about these things, I remembered reading an article from John Piper about why God inspired hard texts. He was thinking about why God would put these difficult to understand sections in His inspired word. It could be that we are just dull, and we are, but even the apostle Peter said there were things in Paul’s writings that were difficult to understand, so it is not only our dullness. There are parts of the Bible that are legitimately hard to understand.
Piper gives four reasons he thinks God has made it this way. 1. Desperation, a sense of utter dependence on God for understanding. 2. Supplication, prayer to God for help. 3. Cogitation, thinking hard about biblical texts. And 4., Education, training people to pray earnestly, read well and think hard.
I think he is right. And as these impulses work their way through our lives we are deepened and sharpened in our faith. So I hope that is what will happen tonight as we wade through a tough paragraph. So as we begin, let’s call on God for strength.

The passage we’re going to look at tonight is a comparison between Adam and Christ. Each of these men stands for one section of where Paul has already been in Romans. Adam is the father of those Paul has spoken about in 1:18-3:20, those who have rebelled against God in their sin and bring judgment on themselves. Jesus is at the heart of 3:21-5:11, as Paul unfolds the great truth that those under God’s wrath can be forgiven, given peace and access to God and be brought from death to life.
Salvation is the story of two men. The first man disobeyed God and brought the entire human race with him in his wrong. The second man obeyed God and provides justification for all who trust in Him. But Paul makes it clear that this is not a one to one correspondence. The work of Christ is far greater than the work of Adam. How this is the case is at the heart of our discussion tonight.

5:12  Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13  for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.
Paul likes to use “therefore” at key ,moments in Romans. We have already seen it at 5:1 and we will see it again at 8:1 and 12:1. Here the therefore seems to be pointing back to Romans 1:18-3:20, since the discussion that follows is about sin and the condemnation that flows to all people through the sin of Adam.

The phrase “just as” sets us up for the fact that a comparison is coming. Paul doesn’t get to it for a couple of verses, he pursues another issue, the place of the law, before he gets to the comparison, but the just as is setting up the comparison. I don’t feel so bad about going on rabbit trails after reading Paul.

Sin came into the world through one man. Adam’s sin had two aspects (1) disobedience to a specific commandment and the willful pride of exalting his will over God’s.

The word One is very important. In Romans 5:12-21, it is used 12 times. Paul is showing us through its use how we are one with Adam through sin and one with Christ by faith. So the actions of the one and their results, either Adam or Christ, flow down to all, either to all humans in the case of Adam or all believers in the case of Christ.

In this case of Adam, this sin brought death. Death in the Bible is spoken of in three ways: (1) spiritual death, with the idea of broken fellowship with God. (2) physical death and (3) eternal death. In this passage, it seems that the spiritual death of Adam has resulted in physical death for the whole human race. The reason I think physical death is mainly in view here at this point is because of what Paul will say in the next couple of verses, so stick with me. These three uses are intertwined in this passage but a different aspect of death surfaces at different points in the passage.

When we talk about death coming through sin we need to see the contrast this is to the way the world thinks about death as a “natural” part of human life. The biblical view of death is very different. Death is an enemy which will finally be conquered by Christ. This is a good place to sensitively probe a person who doesn’t believe in Jesus and particularly one who believes that this material world is all there is. Ask them why death bothers people so much. It runs deeper than just the loss of life or the loss of loved ones. Why do people across all cultures mourn death so fiercely if it is just part of life?

The big point here is that sin is universal and therefore death is universal as a consequence of sin.  There is also here the point that all humans are connected to Adam not only by biology but also because of sin. We have all inherited a sinful nature from him and then we all walk in that nature. So Paul can say in Romans 3, “there is no one righteous, no not one,” and  “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So what we have inherited we have also owned in practice.

But don’t forget the later comparison that is coming. By pointing to the universal damage that came through the sin of Adam, Paul is pointing the universal need for the salvation of Christ. Wherever people are, salvation is needed. The problem of sin is not limited to the Jews or the Gentiles or a particular time or place so neither is the solution to the problem of sin, faith in Christ, limited to time or place or people.

Now you may wonder, why does Paul bring in the law here? I think the reason is because the law has been a prominent part of this book up to this point and Paul in Romans is trying to not only unfold the blessings of salvation in Christ but is also trying to show how these blessings apply to both Jew and Gentile. So he has to deal with the law, because this is at the core of the distinction between Jew and Gentile. If Paul can show that death is universal, then he can show that sin is universal and therefore that the need for Christ is universal.

Nevertheless, he does make a distinction in the world before and after the law was given. Sin was not counted before the law. This doesn’t mean sin didn’t exist. He says in the beginning of verse 13 that sin was in the world. But sin is not reckoned or counted as a violation of the law, since there was no law. But is there a way to sin without the law? (Yes, we’ve seen it in chapter 1, where people see what God has made yet fail to glorify Him or give Him thanks but suppress the truth they know about God in unrighteousness. And we find their hearts darkened and their worship corrupted and they are under the wrath of God. But the wrath they face is different than the wrath faced by those with the law. The ones who do not have the law, “receive in themselves the penalty due their sin.” God gave them over, they received what they received as a consequence of their failure to glorify God or give thanks, not as a consequence of violating the law. Remember Romans 2:12, For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. Those without the law perish. Those with the law are judged. So in both cases there is a negative effect, because all have sinned, with or without the law. But in the case of those with the law, an additional layer of accountability is added, with attendant rewards and judgments for how the law is followed or disobeyed.

How do we know that those without the law are still judged? Look at verse 14. . .

14  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
We see the judgment of God manifested in the death of all those from Adam to Moses, the one who received the law. Death reigned. Like a King, whose rule was universal and whose power was inescapable. So this universal death affirms the universal sin of humanity Paul has already spoken of in Romans 3:23.

This death reigns even over those who did not sin like Adam sinned. Notice all sinned, but Adam sinned in a different way than those who followed him until the law was revealed, because in the case of Adam he received a direct command from God, whereas the rest ignored the revelation of God in creation and rebelled against the knowledge of God. Even though the law was not given to those who followed Adam, they still followed him in his rebellion against God.

The sin of the others is also unlike Adam because stands for a type, or pattern, of the one to come. It is important to understand with a type that the correspondence between the two does not have to be complete, the type can even stand by virtue of contrasts, as it does in Romans 5. So what is the similarity in the pattern between Adam and Christ? (Both of them are first, the origin of a people and both stand as representative heads of those people, who both receive their natures and walk in their ways).

The contrast begins in verse 15 . . .
15  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.
The free gift is the grace of God to us in Christ. Free for us, but not for God. The contrast between Jesus and Adam starts here. The trespass was a great harm to all humanity, the cross is a great gift. So the two are unlike one another in that Jesus brings grace and Adam brings a curse.

Now we need to be careful not to read the word “many” wrongly in this passage. This is especially important toward the end of the chapter. Context is king. We have already seen that “all have sinned.” So the “many” who died is referring in an inclusive way to all who died through Adam’s sin, which is the entire human race. It’s not like some of those who sinned didn’t die. All died. So again, there are several different views of how this is so, but it is clear that Adam’s sin resulted in death for humanity.

Now we see these words, “much more.” This phrase will be used six times in this passage in the Greek. The point is to show the contrast between Adam and Christ. There is something in Christ’s act which is much more than Adam’s.  I think it is about quality and depth. Adam sinned. There is nothing sacrificial or commendable about Adam’s sin. It was a selfish act of rebellion. But Christ gave Himself, left heaven’s glory, came to us. He sacrificed His life’s blood for us. It was the greatest action in all of history.

It also saves us more thoroughly than Adam’s sin corrupts us. We’ll get into that more in a minute. So in Jesus we have God’s grace abounding to many. The “many” here is referring to all those who trust in Jesus. Again it is not every human being but only those who trust in Jesus. We’ll see more about that in a minute too.

The bottom line of this verse is what Adam did was rebel, what Jesus did was to restore. One is much greater than the other.  A two year old can tear scribble over a painting and destroy it, but a master artist can go behind him and make something beautiful. And the act of repainting is far greater in its depth and value than the act of destroying, even though the act of destroying has devastating consequences.

Sadly, we’re out of time. We’ll pick up the rest of the passage next week, Lord willing. But in the meantime, I want you to mull over a question in preparation for next week. The passage we are looking at says that the sacrifice of Christ is a much greater thing than the sin of Adam. How can this be, since the sin of Adam affects all while the work of Christ is sufficient only for those who believe?


It Could Be You

20 Aug

In recent days there have been a rash of mass shootings. As often happens, it seems, there are copy cat killers. When one murderer goes on a rampage, others follow. The Batman shooting in Colorado has been followed by several others in recent days. I think I agree with the father of one of the Colorado victims, who said to CNN that we give far too much attention to these guys who commit these crimes. Some of them in their desperation would rather be infamous than ignored, and we in our insatiable craving for news give them the platform they want.

I have to admit, though, I was intrigued by the analysis of the murderer in the Colorado shootings. It seemed for a few days that everyone in the news media was trying to psychoanalyze the guy, trying to get down under all his motives, trying to see what kind of biological and background markers were characteristic of his life. I find it interesting that most of the discussion centered around background rather than biology. Why do we look to background when someone does something we don’t think is good but look to biology when we want to justify what we or someone else is doing? Could it be yet another indication that we don’t want to face the biblical truth about ourselves: that we are sinful to the core?

Whenever someone does something terrible in our society, we always hear calls for them to get a bullet between their eyes or to hang from the highest tree. We get on our self-righteous high horse and don’t remember that we’ve all got the seeds of a mass-murderer in our sinfully corrupted souls. Given the right mix of circumstance, background, and biology, our sinful nature can manifest itself through horrific choices in my life. This is something I think a purely naturalistic worldview doesn’t address very effectively. The massive cruelty of one person to another is well explained by a biblical worldview, but I don’t see a good explanation coming from a purely biological perspective.

Some of you may be bristling at the thought that you could do something truly horrific. But really, haven’t you ever had a moment of rage that, if the circumstances would have been right, you could have lashed out in a way that would now make you ashamed? When I think about people in the Bible, I think they would have been mortified at the thoughts of some of the things they would do. Could David have imagined when he was anointed king that one day he would commit adultery with Bathsheba and have her husband murdered? We know Peter never imagined that he would deny Jesus three times. He said he wouldn’t deny Jesus yet, when the circumstances lined up, Peter sinfully turned away from Jesus and swore that he never even knew him.

Don’t be quick to assume you could never do horrible things. We do terrible things every day in the sight of God. We need to be careful not to assume that we could never do such things. This doesn’t mean that those who do such things shouldn’t face the consequences of their sin. It does mean that we should be careful not to think they are some special class of sick people who are so different than us. There is real mental illness in the world, but the principle of sin in us is the much more common reason for the horrors we see around us in every day life.  As believers, let’s not fall into step with the unbelieving world by denying the principle of sin. Let us instead with humility point to Jesus, who bears our sin on the cross and saves us and brings real change to our lives.

If anyone thinks he stands, let him take heed lest he fall.




%d bloggers like this: